Plan Calls For New $4.6 Million Airport Terminal

By: Tim Wood

Chatham Municipal Airport as seen from the northeast. SPENCER KENNARD PHOTO

This is the first of two stories examining the draft master plan update for Chatham Municipal Airport.

CHATHAM – Much of the attention being given to the update of the Chatham Municipal Airport Master Plan has been devoted to the proposal to allow direct instrument approach landings. But the thick, 10-chapter study, still in the development stage, contains other significant proposals which could change the way the airport operates.

A new terminal/administration building, long in the planning stages, would, under the draft plan, replace the existing 1930s-era building that houses a repair hangar, offices and the popular 30-seat Hangar B restaurant. Other proposals would add two new hangars to the 101-acre airport as well as a controversial jet fuel pumping facility. The update projects airport needs for the next 20 years.

While Airport Commission Chairman Peter Donovan stressed that none of the proposals in the master plan update have been finalized, the commission has chosen specific alternatives which will be more fully developed when the plan moves into its next stage.

“This is simply a road map or a plan for what the commission feels like we need now,” Donovan said. “None of it is set in stone.”

The existing terminal/administration building, which the report notes is the “front door” to the airport, has been targeted for replacement since the last airport master plan update in 2003. It was considered in poor condition then and that has not changed. It does not meet many building codes, does not comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, lacks sufficient office and storage space, and perhaps most importantly is not secure.

“Right now the general public walks through the pedestrian gate and is basically on the airfield,” Donovan said, passing by aircraft maintenance space to get to the restaurant or offices. Ideally, there should be a secure structure that controls access to the building and airfield for both security and safety reasons, he said. “You can't accomplish that with the existing building. We looked at that numerous times,” he added.

Three alternatives were proposed for addressing the concerns about access to the airport and the poor condition of the existing terminal building. The no action alternative would leave the existing deficiencies in place. Alternative 1 involves renovating the existing building, including building new secure fencing and making the facility ADA compliant at a cost of $3,090,000. However, this would essentially shut down the restaurant and administrative offices during construction.

The airport commission backed alternative 2, which calls for the construction of a new administration/terminal building between the existing terminal and the snow removal equipment storage garage, an area now used for overflow parking. It would be designed to meet ADA standards and have controlled access points, improving security and safety, according to the draft report. There would be adequate space for offices, storage, flight planning, a pilot's lounge and restaurant. A major benefit, according to the report, is that a new building would allow airport offices and the restaurant to remain open in their existing space during construction.

The option also includes construction of apron space that would make up for tie-down spaces that will be lost due to changes to the airport approaches. Its location would also allow airport personnel to better control both airside and landside operations, including public access. The existing access would either be closed or locked with access via card or pin pads.

A new building is estimated to cost $4,615,000. The project was included in the previous airport master plan and is currently slated for design completion in 2023 and construction in 2024 on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Statewide Airport Administration Building schedule, according to the draft report. The program aims to help airports meet accessibility needs, build more airport management space and provide better access to the public, the report notes. The FAA does not pay for administrative building construction, but the state would cover 95 percent of the cost, with the town kicking in 5 percent.

The project concept needs to be more fully developed as part of a permitting or funding process, said Principal Projects and Operations Director Terry Whalen. For instance, the report does not detail what would happen to the existing terminal/administration building under alternative 2. It could include reusing the existing space in conjunction with the two hangars that are in the current building, he said.

The draft master plan update also calls for construction of two new hangar buildings that would contain 22 units. The current hangars are at capacity, according to the report, and there is a demand for additional aircraft storage space. The new hangars would be built adjacent to the existing hangars, and the report states that it is anticipated that private developers will fund the buildings at no cost to the airport.

There has been criticism of the proposal in the master plan update to build a jet-A fuel facility. Currently jet-A fuel is supplied by a fuel truck, and demand for that type of fuel continues to increase; 7,100 gallons were sold in 2016 compared to 11,095 in 2018, according to the report. Having a 10,000 gallon fixed tank would cut down on delivery costs and reduce environmental risks by creating a containment facility and reducing the risk of spills by having fewer deliveries. The facility would cost $805,000, with the town's share at $40,250, and be installed next to the existing fuel pumps.

Critics have said making jet fuel more readily available could lead to larger and louder jets using the airport, as well as increase the risk to the environment.

The airport commission is still reviewing sections of the draft plan with its consultant, Gale Associates, and will continue discussions at its next meeting Oct. 28. Donovan said he hopes to get more public input on the document by holding another session similar to one two weeks ago that drew more than 150 people.

“We need to make sure everyone understands exactly what can and can't happen and what the role of the commission is,” he said, adding that while the commission wants “everyone to be comfortable” with the final plan. “we're never going to make everyone happy.”

The draft of the airport master plan update can be viewed at www.chatham-ma.gov/airport-commission/pages/airport-master-plan-update-ampu-draft-documents-and-public-comment.

Next week: Some surprising data and statistics underpin recommendations in the master plan update.